Food: Capture-Recapture with Split Peas

Summary: A classroom activity using dried split peas exploring the reliability of a basic capture-mark-recapture method of population estimation is described using great whale conservation as a motivating example. The activity was described in C. du Feu, “Having a whale of a time,” Teaching Statistics, 31 (3) (2009), 66-71.

Specifics: The hands-on activity uses dried split peas and involves much larger populations and has two advantages. Firstly, the split-pea populations are too large for any sensible student to contemplate counting the full population. Secondly, unlike SmartiesTM, or M&M’sTM dried split peas will not suffer loss through eating (so there is a fixed population size to be estimated). Beforehand, soak some split peas in colored food dye or simply buy both green peas and yellow peas. Students add exactly 50 of the differently colored peas to each population of unmarked split peas. We now have hundreds, if not thousands, of members in each population of which 50 were ‘captured’ and marked in the first sampling event. The sampling can be done using a teaspoon of about 5mL capacity, which gives samples of about 50 individuals. The number of marked and unmarked split peas in the spoon are counted and a population estimate is made. The peas are replaced, the populations is mixed (stirring or shaking with the lid on) and the next sample is taken. This is repeated as long as required. Once there are sufficient estimates, the sampling can be drawn to a close and discussion of the estimates can take place. 

Supplementary materials include expository material on the motivating example and student worksheets.

(Resource photo illustration by Barbara Cohen, 2020; this summary compiled by Bibek Aryal)

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Author Name: 
C. du Feu
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